Carman's Letters to Margaret Lawrence 1927-1929
by D.M.R. Bentley
by Margaret Maciejewski
14. November. 1927
Margaret: There are such a multitude (I seem to become
ungrammatical at once!) of things in your letters that
clamor for delightful conversation, I hardly know where
to begin. Moreover I have been rather pressed for time.
a very good meeting at Fort Worth I came over here on
Saturday to stay the weekend with friends on my way
to the next reading at a small place, Commerce,1
before going to Waco. That remains the best address,
while I am running about this vast State. I have half
a dozen more readings before the end of the month and
possibly more. Possibly I go to New Mexico also.
I got here, there was a poetry Society in session, where
I went and had to speak. A small affair.
College2 at Fort
Worth was full of genial young people. But I weary of
great hotels and noise. Texas is vast and rich, but
no wilderness nor desert nor mountains—and so no escape.
I would flee to Santa Fé. Chiefly I am thankful for
a little real money, and I hope
there is some service to the
audiences, though sometimes I wonder.
delightful that you sold a story, a history. And how
grand that you have read Gallion’s Reach and admire
he is a gorgeous master of prose and the innards of
poetry, even though as you say this book is not a novel,
hardly a tale, but enough for several tales.
name?4 I wish
I could find the very one for you! Certainly not
Margaret. Margaret is always to[o] hard and chilly for
my ears. Only proper for a Sister Superior. Never
any charm or glamor about her. And Alexandra much
too brocaded and majestic. Sandra, perhaps, but not
the full name. Alexandra Lawrence is too long to be
readily picked up, and is not metrically right. To go
with Lawrence you should have an accent on the first
syllable like Gwendolen or Guenevere or Dorothy, though
none of these would do. I’ll try to think some more.
But do dash ahead with fiction, we will find a name.
I don’t know about the art of the unsaid, though it
is a right phrase. And I know I have to leave
so such unsaid. I never could have the hardihood to
be autobiographic truly. I was born to silence, and
inherit a painful shyness and embarrassment from my
mother. It is almost impossible to speak out. Why is
that? Do you know, you woman, you psychologist? I am
Am I? How? Why? Yes, I know, Pierce6
is ready and I have no objection. But that won’t be
biography or physiography and dates—bios
is life, in Greek as you
know. Your hands will be on the heart strings.
about the Celtic temperament and that book?7
I am thankful you want to write to the
heart. For that is the sort of writing I love, being
but indifferent clever and mostly sympathy. My dear
you have my hand, hold on!
No, I did not know that November is spring
among the possessed people.8
And I am not of them. There is only one spring for me
and that is April in New England.
You ought to write, Margaret, you have
passed the baptism of fire and grief and parting and
so understand the heart.
glad I am that you can tell me the beautiful intimate
friendly things, as about the pine pillow.9
I cannot stand
seeing the poor insensate familiar things surviving
all about us when the loved one is away, nor to find
myself in a place alone where we once have been together,
No, no, it is too much.
I like the South—the desert of New Mexico
or Arizona, or the tolerant genial Southern California
& its Hollywood, but nothing is ever more kind to
me than our Northern Winter—I mean the dry Northern
Haven’t read Jalna,10
so cannot say.
I must go to bed now, as I have to be
off early in the morning.
But I am perishing for a bit of the Desert
or a Mountain.
Much too civilian, this
reading business, but thank the Lord for
But it is quite all right for you to treasure
keepsakes, my dear. Many can, and it is a comfort.
Commerce City in northeast Texas, Carman read at
East Texas State Teachers College, a co-educational
institution founded in 1889 (see Letters 35 and
Christian University (see Letter 33 n.2). [back]
Letter 24 n.2. [back]
a letter of November 7, 1927, Lawrence expresses
her dissatisfaction with the name Margaret and suggests
Alexandra as an alternative, citing its literary
and numerological associations (Alexandra is the
daughter of Oronthea in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso,
and it contains nine letters, a tripling of the
triple that can be read as a synthesis of the physical,
mental, and spiritual planes of existence). [back]
her November 7 letter, Lawrence likens Carman to
François Villon (1431-1485), the French poet and
villain who gave new life to old French poetic forms
in Le Grand testament (1461) and had a seemingly
miraculous ability to escape death by hanging. [back]
Pierce (1890-1961), the editor of the Ryerson Press
in Toronto from 1920 to 1960 (see Letter 3 n.2)
and Canadian cultural nationalist, established four
series in the mid-’twenties to stimulate interest
and activity in Canadian literature and history:
the Ryerson Poetry Chapbooks (1925- ),
Makers of Canadian Literature (1925- ),
the Ryerson Canadian History Readers (1926- ),
and the Ryerson Books of Prose and Verse (1927- ).
In 1922 he edited (with Albert Durrant Watson) Our
Canadian Literature: Representative Prose and Verse
and in 1926 he donated the Lorne Pierce Medal
to the Royal Society of Canada, an award for distinguished
service to Canadian literature. His Fifty Years
of Service: a Life of James L. Hughes was published
in 1924 and his Outline of Canadian Literature
(French and English) in 1927. In 1929, he
published William Kirby, the Portrait of a Tory
Loyalist and the first of two histories of The
Ryerson Press. One of the sections of his Three
Fredericton Poets: Writers of the University of
New Brunswick and the New Dominion (1933) is
devoted to Carman, and he wrote the entry on the
poet in A Standard Dictionary of Canadian Biography:
the Canadian Who Was Who, ed. Charles G.D. Roberts
and Arthur L. Tunnel (1934). He was Carman’s literary
executor. See also C.H. Dickinson, Lorne Pierce:
a Profile (1965). [back]
her letter of November 7, Lawrence tells Carman
that in 1919 a friend of Albert Durrant Watson,
Francis Grierson (1848-1927), gave her a copy of
his Celtic Temperament, and Other Essays
(1901) and pronounced her as a striking example
of the Celtic type. For Lawrence’s ancestry, see
Introduction xviii n.2. [back]
is mentioned by Lawrence in a November 8 postscript
to her letter of November 7. [back]
her postscript of November 8, Lawrence tells Carman
that when Watson died (on May 3, 1926) he was resting
his head on a pillow that she had made for him of
northern balsam leaves. [back]
the first of sixteen novels in the "Jalna"
series by the Toronto-born writer Mazo de la Roche
(1879-1961), was published in Boston in 1927. The
series follows several generations of the Whiteoaks
family whose lives revolve around "Jalna,"
a house in Clarkson, Ontario. Jalna won
the Atlantic Monthly prize for the best first
novel in 1927 and won immediate and enormous national
and international acclaim. For contemporary Canadian
opinions of de la Roche and Jalna, see John
Macklem, "Who is Who in Canadian Literature:
Mazo de la Roche" Canadian Bookman,
9 (September, 1927), 259-60 and Raymond Knister,
"Appreciation for Jalna," Canadian
Bookman, 10 (February, 1928), 54. [back]